Here’s the good news: The CDC has announced that romaine lettuce is officially safe to eat again.
Here’s the bad news: All of your excuses for choosing a burger instead of a salad at lunchtime have officially expired.
The chopped-salad crisis is over. Hail, Caesar! Come back, Cobb.
People have been advised against eating romaine for one month, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a broad warning against it on April 20. The CDC first reported on April 10 that people in New Jersey were sickened with E. coli by romaine lettuce, and as the outbreak continued to grow across multiple states, the agency pinpointed the source of the contamination as Yuma, Ariz., where most of the romaine sold in the United States during the winter is grown. Nevertheless, consumers were advised to throw away all romaine lettuce if they didn’t know its origin.
E. coli is serious: Symptoms of the outbreak strain included bad stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Some people can develop kidney failure, and rare cases can result in death. All told, the recent romaine outbreak resulted in 172 cases of E. coli with 75 hospitalizations in 32 states. One person died.
It isn’t the first time that salads have been implicated in a large outbreak, and it won’t be the last, either. According to The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey, “food safety experts say convenience greens — those handy bags of pre-chopped and pre-washed salads — carry an extra risk because they come in contact with more people and machinery before they arrive on your plate.” Contamination can occur from animals on the farm or from workers who don’t wash their hands. Because the greens are often chopped and bagged at a separate facility with produce from other farms, they come into contact with more workers, and the risk of cross-contamination is higher. In 2006, a baby spinach E. coli outbreak sickened 205 people and killed five of them.
In the meantime, grocers and restaurants have been going out of their way to assure customers that their lettuce was not grown in Yuma.
But romaine lettuce has a short shelf life — only 21 days, according to the CDC. Last week, the agency updated its advisory to say that it is “unlikely” that any Yuma-grown romaine was still in the supply chain. So you can grocery-shop with confidence, knowing that your Cobb salad will be safe to eat — except, uh, check the source of those eggs, because there’s a salmonella outbreak for multiple brand names produced by Rose Acre Farms’ Hyde County farm. Anyway! Here are some salads you can once again make without fear:
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